"A Life and Death Situation"
This documentary will be a portrait of Edith Dlukulu, a Hospice nurse and care giver who dedicates her life to looking after people with terminal illnesses. The documentary will be an exploration of Edith's experience of working on a daily basis with issues pertaining to life and death.  I am interested in exploring how these preoccupations shape her identity, and her experience of daily life - at work, but also in her personal life. The documentary will be structured as a ‘day in the life of’ this person, capturing aspects of her daily existence and her responses to this existence.

The Process
This audio essay will investigate the audio documentary genre and will act as a vehicle for reflection where I will critically assess the process of producing my own audio documentary. I will also use this essay to explore the value of good social research where I will be drawing on literature that deals with these principles. I will use the documentary I am working on to create comparisons and comment on the challenges this genre presents. My documentary will deal with a nurse from Hospice and her daily routines as well as the way she handles death as part of her job.

Section 1 - Plans
A documentary aims to record reality through the depiction of people, places and events. John Grierson defines documentaries in terms of the creative inputs journalists attach to the realities of people’s lives. This presents philosophical discrepancies regarding the staging of certain actualities through re-enactments. This further fuels the debate surrounding representation as reality only happens once and therefore re-representing it or re-enacting it detracts from the ‘truth’ as such. The process of mediation is an oxymoron as it is impossible to re-create reality without constructing a narrative that may be fictional in places. It is however widely accepted that media generally is classed as non-fiction as it aims to represent a reality in a less filtered and reconstructed light than a fictional text would.

Section 2 - Practice
Bill Nichols outlines six documentary modes including the poetic, the expository, the observational, the reflexive, the participatory and the performative modes. The poetic form encourages the alinto an argumentative frame with a "Voice-of-God" narration style. The observational mode considers documentation of life in a less intrusive manner with less control from the documentarist. The reflexive form interacts with the audience and engages with realism and representation. The participatory mode records the encounters between the subject and the documentarist and relies heavily on the honesty of the witnesses. The performative mode acknowledges the emotional and subjective aspects of a documentary and is often autobiographical in nature. I will utilise the observational form as well as the performative form within my documentary; while I will become a part of my subject’s daily lifestyle, I will also gain a subjective view of the character through personal stories she discusses from her past.

This process started with my creation of a documentary proposal.

In order to make informed editorial decisions regarding what my documentary should sound like and what content would work best for my topic, I spent time listening to other documentaries from Nichols' six modes. During this time I kept a Listening Diary.

I knew I would come to a stage in the production of my documentary where fieldwork would be completely necessary. The idea of speaking to people about a topic as rich and deep as death was terribly daunting and I found myself looking for reason upon reason to postpone the process. The time eventually came and I realised that the only way to get the ball rolling was to push it down a hill. I knew it was important to plan carefully due to the sensitive nature of the topic and I realised I would need guidelines to assist me in conducting high quality interviews both in terms of content and in terms of technical quality. Kvale’s InterViews outlines seven stages of an interview investigation. These stages include Thematizing, Designing, Interviewing, Transcribing, Analyzing, Verifying, and reporting. I used Kvale’s first three stages to assist me in formulating the guidelines previously mentioned.

The first two stages of Kvale’s process focus on planning the fieldwork process while the third considers the actual practice of conducting the interviews. These three stages are also associated with social research and as a result I see them as fitting for my own documentary which examines the social implications of death as a social experience. This research, through interviews, allows the audience to understand a topic from the subject’s pint of view through uncovering the meaning of the experiences.

In his discussion of the first stage, that of thematizing, Kvale is concerned with the need to articulate the purpose of one’s research. This is a means of gathering new information as well as determining the mode of analysing. Kvale suggests that the interviewer should already know the subject in order for them to tell whether or not the interview itself is discovering something new. I feel that this is relevant to my fieldwork process as I know a certain amount about death although I have had very limited experiences of it. Through my interviews I hope to bring light to the subject which is often considered taboo. I feel that I was able to formulate a successful documentary concept by assessing what it was my audience was missing regarding Hospice and its processes and responsibilities.

The second stage, that of designing the research, involves the planning of the study, by taking into consideration all seven stages. This process is completed before the interview even starts and considers how the interviewing process will unfold. Kvale encourages the interviewer to think through the ethical dimensions of the report as these will affect the subject, the interviewee as well as the audience in the long run. This is especially relevant to my documentary as the topic of death is sensitive and not often discussed. I therefore designed my research strategy very carefully making sure to avoid imposing or insensitive questions in my interviews as well as considering ways to ensure my interviewee is comfortable enough to share intimate stories of an extremely sad time through a microphone. I did however struggle to comprehend the moral implications the interviews would have on interviewees as well as on myself but was able to rectify the problem through tweaking of questions as well as lead-up into the interview.

Kvale describes the third stage as the process of conducting the fieldwork. He suggests providing the interviewee with a context for the interview through a briefing beforehand as well as a summary at the end of the interview process. I felt that this assisted me tremendously in gaining information that was relevant as well as meaningful. It definitely put my interviewees at ease as they realised that I was not looking to create an expose` nor was I looking to interrogate them; I was simply aiming to create a documentary that would educate my audience on a topic which is of utmost importance in our society however, never spoken of.

My fieldwork experience thus far has been extremely daunting but highly rewarding both in terms of content for my documentary as well as for my own understanding of a topic I was before petrified of dealing with. Through Kvale’s stages I was able to draw up guidelines which assisted me in preparing physically (in terms of questions and approaches to interviews) as well as mentally and emotionally (in terms of feeling confident through my preparation). The process of fieldwork consists of many stages from planning to execution; something which I was oblivious to at the start of this process.

How Often Do You Think About Death?


An Uninformed Decision

Section 3 - Reflection
So, after the longest five months of my life, I have completed my first radio documentary. "A Life and Death Situation" gave me many sleepless nights and too many headaches to count but I am nevertheless extremely proud of it. 
A Life and Death Situation

Goodbye Uncle Gary